It's a Young Man's World , Part 1
The 2008 Major League Baseball playoffs are just around the corner and most of this year's participants are now known, with just a couple playoff races still to be decided. What we also know, is that rookies and other young players will be playing key roles on each and every team that appears in the 2008 playoffs.
During the 2008 playoffs, the Tampa Bay Rays will go as far as the club's young pitching will take it. The club could feature as many as eight young pitchers on the staff with less than two years of Major League experience. Starter Matt Garza, obtained from the Minnesota Twins last winter for outfielder Delmon Young, will help anchor the starting staff, along with "veterans" James Shields and Scott Kazmir. Evan Longoria, also in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year title, will be making his first playoff appearance in his Major League debut season.
Matt Garza RHP
After spending parts of two seasons with the Minnesota Twins, Garza finally established himself in the Major Leagues. He has worked 179.1 innings this season and has allowed 166 hits and 57 walks. Garza has also fanned 125 batters and done a reasonably good job of keeping the ball in the park with a rate of 0.90 HR/9. Garza has been helped by a low BABIP of .279.
David Price LHP
David Price could be this year's Francisco Rodriguez (who had a major impact on the 2002 playoffs despite not making his MLB debut until mid-September of that year). After beginning the year in A-ball and zooming through the minors, Price has looked like he belongs in the Major Leagues. In three appearances, he has allowed eight hits and three walks in 11.1 innings of work, including Monday's start against Baltimore when he allowed one earned run in 5.1 innings of work. Of the balls put in play against Price, 58.8 percent have been on the ground.
Andy Sonnanstine RHP
Andy Sonnanstine may not have the pure stuff to rival Kazmir, Garza or Price, but he gets by on pure guile and command. He is also tied for the team lead in wins. In 187.2 innings this season, Sonnanstine has allowed 207 hits, but just 34 walks. He has the potential to provide some valuable innings for the club, as more than one historical playoff series has been decided on a long extra inning game.
Evan Longoria 3B
Longoria began the year in the minor leagues and will end it in the Major League playoffs. The rookie currently has a line of .276/.345/.534 with 25 homers and 82 RBI in 115 games. The right-handed batter has struggled to hit for average against southpaws this season with a line of .243/.328/.532. His lack of patience (9.5 BB%) may be exploited in the playoffs, especially considering the amount of nervous energy that will be flowing.
Boston is traditionally known as a veteran club, but the organization has received some outstanding performances from young players this year, and there is no reason to suspect that those contributions will end with the regular season.
Jon Lester LHP
Jon Lester has returned from a battle with cancer to solidify himself as a reliable Major League starter. The lefty has won 15 games in the regular season and allowed 200 hits and 65 walks in 204.1 innings of work. He has also struck out 148 batters. Lester has done a nice job of limiting walks (2.86 BB/9) and keeping the ball in the park (0.62 HR/9). His playoff experience in 2007 (1.93 ERA with six hits allowed in 9.1 innings) should benefit him in 2008.
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Dustin Pedroia has been good enough to earn MVP talk thanks to a ridiculous offensive season that has seen him record more than 200 hits, as well as 52 doubles and 17 homers. The well-rounded hitter has also walked 50 times, equaling his strikeout total. He has also stolen 19 bases. Pedroia, who played in the 2007 playoffs, struggled in the Division Series with a .154 batting average but picks things up with a .345 average in the League Championship Series and a .278 average in the World Series (as well as four RBI and a homer in four games).
Jacoby Ellsbury OF
Jacoby Ellsbury has had a bit of an inconsistent season with a slow June and July, but the speedy outfielder has hit .315/.351/.466 in September. His overall season numbers are OK at .274/.332/.381 in 533 at-bats. Ellsbury has also contributed solid defence, as well as 49 stolen bases - and speed can be a valuable tool in the playoffs. The left-handed batter has held his own against southpaws with a .281 average. Ellsbury makes up for his lack of power (.107 ISO) by keeping the ball on the ground (51.5 GB%).
Others: Jed Lowrie, 24, will offer flexibility at a number of positions for the Red Sox and has looked better at shortstop than many scouts thought he would. Justin Masterson will provide options of Boston has he can start in a pinch or pitch multiple innings out of the pen. The sinker ball specialist could also be called on in a key situation where a fly ball could mean certain doom.
The White Sox club will need key contributions from two young starters if it hopes to make it out of the Divisional Series. The club's home run leader, Carlos Quentin, is currently on the disabled list and no one is certain exactly when he'll be able to play again.
Gavin Floyd RHP
Gavin Floyd, a highly-regarded prospect who was drafted out of high school by the Phillies, finally had everything click in 2008. He has pitched in 194.2 innings this seasons, more than his previous four part MLB seasons combined. Chicago must hope that Floyd has something left in the tank after pitching more innings than he ever has before. A couple warning signs for Floyd include a high home runs ratio (1.39 HR/9) and a low BABIP at .257. As well, after posting ERAs in the 3.00s in the first four months, Floyd has posted ERAs of 4.29 in August and 5.20 in September.
John Danks LHP
The young lefty, like Floyd, has had a breakout season. John Danks, who was obtained two years ago from pitching-starved Texas, has pitched better against right-handed batters, than left-handers (.240/.370/.296 versus .272/.372/.328). Danks has done a nice job keeping the ball in the park with a HR/9 of 0.64. His innings total is also lower than Floyd's, which could help explain his late-season surge (2.42 ERA in September).
Carlos Quentin OF
It is safe to say Quentin has been a key cog in the White Sox offence this season after he slugged 36 homers, drove in 100 runs and posted a line of .288/.394/.571 in 130 games. Quentin went down with a broken wrist in early September but there is hope that he will be able to return for some or all of the playoffs.
The Angels had a playoff spot wrapped up in the American League before any other club, and the club did it by relying on a solid mix of veterans and young players.
Joe Saunders LHP
Joe Saunders is tied for the club lead with 16 wins in just his first full season. Saunders won't overpower anyone (He has just 94 strikeouts in 192 innings, 4.41 K/9) but he knows how to mix his pitches to keep batters off balance and he takes advantage of the defence behind him. After a bumpy August, where he posted an ERA of 6.93, Saunders has turned things around just in time for the post-season, which will be his first.
Jose Arredondo RHP
Jose Arredondo has done a nice job of helping to solidify the Angels bullpen this season, even if all the press goes to Francisco Rodriguez. The 1.54 ERA and nine wins are impressive, but he has also done a nice job of limiting home runs (0.31 HR/9 and a ground ball rate of 51.9%). Arredondo has held batters to a .196 average, thanks in part to a low BABIP at .254. Left-handed batters have a particularly tough time against the right-hander and are hitting just .155 against him.
Erick Aybar SS
Erick Aybar has done a nice job at shortstop for the Angels. He is not flashy with the bat, but his approach is solid and he has batted .276/.314/.382 with three homers and six stolen bases in 330 at-bats. The switch-hitter is equally effective against both right-handed and left-handed pitchers. He may be a little tired right now with both his average and slugging percentage taking a hit in August and September. Aybar could stand to be more patient at the plate as he has walked just 14 times (4.1%) this season.
Others: Both Brandon Wood and Sean Rodriguez have a chance of seeing playing time during the playoffs. Neither player has performed overly well with the bat, but both have been highly-thought-of prospects and the potential is there for one or both of them to get on a hot streak.
Currently outside looking in, the Minnesota Twins face a bit of an uphill battle to secure a playoff berth, but the club has the talent to do just that. And the young players will be counted on heavily should the club secure a spot in the fall series.
Nick Blackburn RHP
With just 11.2 innings of MLB experience under his belt prior to 2008, Nick Blackburn has led the young starting pitching staff with 182 innings. He hasn't overpowered anyone with 212 hits allowed and just 91 strikeouts (4.50 K/9), but Blackburn has been steady up until September. This month, Blackburn has looked tired and has allowed 26 hits in 19 innings of work, with a 7.58 ERA.
Francisco Liriano LHP
The promising southpaw is finally looking like the Francisco Liriano of old, post Tommy John surgery. After a horrible beginning to the year (11.32 ERA and three losses in three starts), Liriano has returned from a stint in the minors to post a 1.23 ERA with four wins in August and a 3.28 ERA with two wins in September to help lead the Twins' late-season charge for a post-season berth.
Carlos Gomez OF
Part of the reward from the Mets for star pitcher Johan Santana, Carlos Gomez has had a solid first full season in the Majors. His overall approach at the plate needs work (4.3 BB%, 24.5 K%), but he brings an energy to the club that can be absolutely magical in the playoffs. Gomez will keep pitchers on the edge of the rubber after stealing 32 bases in the regular season.
Others: Control artist Kevin Slowey, and left-hander Glen Perkins could also play big roles in the playoffs for the Twins. Perkins has experience in the bullpen and he could head back there if needed, despite making 25 starts this season. Alexi Casilla should see significant time at second base.
Up Next on Friday: The NL's young playoff hopefuls